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How Do I Breathe When I Can't Breathe?

answered 05:37 AM EST, Mon October 14, 2013
anonymous anonymous
I almost drowned and now with a part of my PTSD sometimes I feel like I can’t breathe even though all is OK. Once I get this feeling I have to fight to take the next breath and it feels like I can’t or I won’t be able to and I start to panic but then I do and then it repeats and during this I will by squezzing my stomach and chest muscles so hard they will hurt for hours after. I know I am supposed to try to do deep diaphramic breathing when I get like this but I can barely take tiny shallow breaths so that does not work.

Rebecca Ashton Says...

Thank you for your question. It sounds to me like you haven't processed what happened to you. If you're not already seeing someone, I feel it could be useful to go and work through the issue with a counsellor/therapist so that you can come to terms with what happened which will in turn ease the symptoms.

In the short term, things like correcting your posture when you find it hard to breathe can help, or even try singing! We breathe differently when we sing which can help to get the blood oxygenated, as well as taking your mind off thinking about your breathing, which is what can make it seem worse and cause the panic to build up.

You say you feel panicked when this happens-another thing that could help when you start to feel anxious is a burst of star jumps, running up and down the stairs or another physical activity that suits you. This may sound counter-productive, but if you think about it, panic stems from excessive anxious energy-it's like a washing machine, going round and round with nowhere to go until it builds up to the spin cycle. A quick burst of physical activity can help to 'use up' that energy which can help to stop it turning into a panic attack.

Another method is to breathe in through your nose for the count of seven then out through your mouth for the count of eleven. This helps get the oxygen/blood flowing round the body and focusing on counting rather than on breathing can be a good distraction while you ride out the energy.

These are just a few ideas which you may or may not find useful (it's hard for me to be more specific without having met you), but I feel it is important to keep trying until you find something that works for you. A counsellor/therapist can help you to find something more tailored to you as an individual.

Good luck.


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Page last updated Oct 14, 2013

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